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Burns the ace as gritty Gall’s ease through to decider

Gaelic football pick up

St Gall’s 0-10 Nemo Rangers 1-6
By Brendan Larkin
IF this is the kind of fare St Gall’s are capable of serving up, they could well win the All-Ireland Club title on St Patrick’s Day.

A breathtaking semi-final was settled in favour of the northern champions by sheer weight of numbers, a fanatical desire to win, and the magnificent scoring exploits of centre-forward Sean Burns, who claimed seven of his side’s 10 points.

St Gall’s swarmed all over the Cork champions at every opportunity, never allowing them to get into their stride, and would not have been flattered by a wider winning margin.

Superb approach work was marred by shooting from too far out, while at least one goal chance was spurned in the first half, Karl Stewart opting for a point rather than passing inside to the unmarked Kevin Niblock.

There were many heroes on the St Gall’s team: Sean Burns’ free-taking was exceptional, and Colin Brady, Sean Kelly and Garry McGirr - up to the time of his sending off - were superb in defence, while Aodhan Gallagher, Kevin McGourty and Paul Gribbin made life difficult for the Nemo defence.

For Nemo only Gearoid O’Shea, Brian O’Regan and James Masters - who accounted for all but a point of his side’s tally and was the only forward to score - and David Niblock will remember this game with any degree of satisfaction.

Martin Cronin won the toss and opted to play against the wind in the first half but it was the Northerners who made the better start, and it took a superb save by Don Heaphy to deny Kevin McGourty a goal after just 50 seconds.

It was a warning of what was to come, but for all their territorial advantage it took the Gall’s eight minutes to open their account when Sean Burns pointed, and they had to wait another five for their second, again from Burns. St Gall’s two-man full-forward line of McGourty and Kevin Niblock made life very difficult for Gary Murphy and Niall Geary, but their reluctance to take the ball in closer cost them several scores.

It took Nemo 15 minutes to mount their first real attack but Sean O’Brien, who fielded Paul Kerrigan’s long delivery superbly, failed to get any power behind his kick, and it was easy for the Gall’s ‘keeper. A period of sustained pressure finally saw the Munster champions get on the scoreboard when James Masters pointed a free in the 20th minute.

Undeterred, Gall’s were back for two further points, one of which should have been a goal, and they were to pay a heavy price for that miss a minute later, when the industrious David Niblock was grounded in the Gall’s square and Masters coolly slotted home the resultant penalty, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

That goal tied the game for the first time. Nemo were expected to take up the running from there on, but Gall’s hadn’t read the script. Urged on by their huge following they finished the half as they began, scoring two points in a row to go in at the break leading 0-6 to 1-1, and significantly Nemo hadn’t scored from play.

Gall’s continued to storm the Nemo defence on the changeover but they continued to shoot for scores from too far out, and wasted several more chances to increase their lead before Sean Burns pointed his fifth free.

Matters got worse for Nemo when they lost the services of Derek Kavanagh 11 minutes into the second half with a back injury before Burns had his side in front by double scores 0-8 to 1-1, with another pointed free.

Nemo were now in serious trouble, with no hint of a score from play but they were unlucky in the 45th minute when John Paul O’Neill, who had replaced Kavanagh, crashed the ball off the butt of the Gall’s upright after taking a pass from Masters.

A goal then might have helped to turn the game Nemo’s way, but Gall’s were rampant, and it took a magnificent save by Don Heaphy to deny Kevin McGrourty a second time, at the expense of a 45 - which was pointed by Sean Burns.

There was still time to pull this game out of the fire, and after Masters finally got his side’s first score from play, he pointed a free which was quickly followed by another from wing back Neil O’Sullivan, which guaranteed a grandstand finish.

For the first time in the game Gall’s nerves began to fray and Garry McGirr was sent off for a second yellow card as Nemo went in search of the match-winning scores.

A careless pass from defence presented James Masters with a point which left the minimum between the sides as the fourth official put up his board showing three minutes of additional time.

Playing the possession game to perfection, however, 14-man St Gall’s denied Nemo the ball and ran down the clock to secure their place in next month’s All-Ireland final for the first time in their history.

Scorers: St Gall’s: S. Burns 0-7 (0-5 frees, 0-1 45); K. Stewart, A. Gallagher, C. McGourty 0-1 each. Nemo Rangers: J. Masters 1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-3 frees); N. O’Sullivan 0-1.

ST GALL’S: P. Murray; S. Kennedy, A. McClean, C. Brady; S. Kelly, P. Gribbin, G. McGirr; M. McCrory, C. McCrossan’ A. Healey, S. Burns, A. Gallagher; K. Stewart, K. McGourty, K. Niblock.

Substitutes: Kieran McGrourty for McClean; C. McGrourty for McCrossan; C. Gallagher for Niblock; C. Smyth for Gribbin.

NEMO RANGERS: D. Heaphy; G. Murphy, N. Geary, G. O’Shea; M. Daly, B. O’Regan, N. O’Sullivan; M. Cronin, D. Kavanagh; J. Masters, S. O’Brien, D. Niblock; P. Kerrigan, A. Cronin, W. Morgan.

Substitutes: D. Mehigan for Kerrigan; JP O’Neill for Kavanagh; C/ O’Shea for Daly; A. Morgan for O’Brien; J. Kavanagh for A. Cronin.

Referee: T. Quigley (Wexford).